Magic Steals (Kate Daniels #6.5)(4)

“I told you,” my mother said with pride in her voice. “My daughter is the White Tiger. She can banish evil.”

“Not all evil,” I said, and pushed a sticky-note pad toward Iluh. “Could you write your grandmother’s address down for me? I’ll go visit the house.”

Iluh scribbled it down and got a key out of her purse. “Here is the spare key.” She wrote down another address. “This is my parents’ house. I’ll be over there today. Is there anything I can do? Do you want me to come with you?”

“No.” She would just get in the way.

“Do I need to pay you?”

My mother froze in the kitchen, mortally offended.

People often confused ethnicity and cultural upbringing. Just because someone looks Japanese or Indian, doesn’t mean they have strong cultural ties to their country of origin. Cultural identity was more than skin deep. Because of the nature of my magic, I was known to many Indonesians in Atlanta, and learning about the culture and myths of my parents wasn’t only a part of my heritage, it was part of what made me better at what I did. Iluh chose to have less ties to Indonesian families. Culturally she was more mainstream. You can’t be offended by someone who simply didn’t know how things worked.

“You don’t have to pay me,” I explained gently. “I do this because it’s my obligation to the community. Generations ago my family was given the gift of this magic so we could help others. It’s my duty and I’m happy to do it.”

Iluh swallowed. “I’m so sorry.”

“No, no, I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable. Please don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Please find her. She is my only grandmother.”

“I’ll do what I can,” I told her.

? ? ?

I walked Iluh out to the door. When I returned, my mother crossed her arms. “Pay? What, like you’re some kind of maid?”

“Let it go, Mom. She just didn’t know.”

“She should know. That’s my point. Are you going over there?”

“Yes. Let me just get dressed.”

“Good,” my mother said. “I’ll make you dinner while you’re gone. That way when you come back, there will be something to eat.”

No! “Thank you so much, but I’m okay.”

“Dali!” My mother opened the refrigerator. “There is nothing in here, except rice. You might have to purify a house today. You don’t even have cakes for the offering.”

There was nothing in there because I was planning to store leftovers from Jim’s and my dinner. Jim, who was currently hiding upstairs and whom I had to sneak out of here. “I was going to go grocery shopping today. And I’ll steal some of your donuts for the offering.” I had apples in the fridge and my garden was in bloom. That would be plenty for the offering.

“I’ll make you something to eat. Look at you, you’re skin and bones.”

“Mother, I’m perfectly fine. I’m twenty-seven years old.”

“Yes, you are. Your sink smells funny, your refrigerator is empty, and your trash is overflowing. And!” My mother pulled two dirty wineglasses out of the cabinet.

How did she even know? It was like she had radar.

“What is this? Have you been drinking?”

Help me.

“Drinking alone? That is not healthy for you. Look, you couldn’t even bother to wash the glass. You just got another one and then stuck the dirty one in there. That’s what alcoholics do.”

“I’m a shapeshifter, Mom. I can’t get drunk even if I tried.” Technically I could. If I drank an entire bottle of whiskey, I would be buzzed for about twenty minutes or so, and then my body would metabolize the last of the alcohol and I would be sober as a baby.

“Drinking, not eating, messing with stray cats.” My mother shook her head. “You know what you need? You need to meet a nice man. You need to get married and have lots of healthy children . . .”

I put my hands over my face.

Something thudded above us again.

“That’s it.” My mother marched to the stairs. “I’m going to see this cat.”

“You’ll scare him!” I chased her up the stairs. “Mother!”

My mother opened the door to my bedroom. It stood empty.

“Puss, puss . . .” My mother bent down and glanced under the bed. “Puss, puss . . . Does your cat speak Indonesian?”

Actually he does. He learned it just for me.

“I told you, he’s hiding.” Maybe he went out the window.

The door to the closet stood open. The tomato red lingerie I had left on the carpet was missing.

“Kitty, kitty, puss, puss . . .”

Jim was still here. I could smell him. I edged into the closet and raised my head. Jim stood above the door, legs propped up on the top shelves of the closet, his back pressed against the wall. The stupid lingerie hung from his fingers.

I wished I could fall through the floor.

Jim shook the lingerie at me and raised his dark eyebrows.

My mother turned around. “Why are you blushing?”

I had to get her out of my bedroom. “I really have to go and look for Eyang Ida,” I said. “I’m going to get dressed now.”

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